Hundreds of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists have warned that the Policing and Crime Bill which is now reaching its final stage in Parliament “will have a profound negative impact on the mental health of young people”.
“We can think of no better measures to disempower and socially isolate young people,” they say in an open letter signed by more than 350 academics and clinicians and posted online.
The intervention comes as the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill reaches the final stages of its journey into law. It was widely opposed by human rights activists, racial justice groups, former home secretaries and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, who called the proposals ” oppressive and evil”.
Among the bill’s anti-protest measures are new powers for police to ban marches and demonstrations deemed “severely disruptive”, including too loud; sentences of up to 51 weeks for protesters who attach themselves or “cling” to another person or object; and sentences of up to 10 years for anyone found guilty of “desecration” of a statue or memorial.
“One of the results of this legislation, if passed, will be that young people will have to choose between being intimidated by inaction and isolation, or possibly criminalized if they choose to act,” the letter states.
“Some may deliberately choose to escalate their actions to be more disruptive and possibly violent, given the severe consequences for even minor nonviolent activity.”
Signatories include Susie Orbach, psychoanalyst and author of Fat Is a Feminist Issue, Eric Taylor, Emeritus Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at King’s College London, and Mike Wang, President of the Association of Clinical Psychologists, who signed on behalf of his entire organization.
Orbach said the young people, full of the “great hope and boredom” of adolescence, were eager to make a difference in the world. “Then imagine a bill that robs you and your friends of initiative and agency,” she said.
“We raise children to act, then the government says no. This bill sows confusion. It tries to deactivate the commitment. It’s going to depoliticize the youth, maybe that’s what we want, but what a tragedy personally and collectively.
The letter was written by Lynne Jones, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, who received an OBE for her work with children in conflict zones in central Europe in the late 1990s.
Jones said she was inspired by an Australian environmental activist, Marco Bellemo, who called on professionals to oppose restrictions on activism. She said of the bill: ‘It’s terrifying because it undermines one of the pillars of our democracy, and it also attacks the young people who need our support the most.
“Priti Patel has made no secret that she is targeting eco-protesters, that means she is targeting young people.”
The Guardian has contacted the Home Office for comment.